BMW fans had every reason to believe that the M4 GT3s would be contenders for the win in the 50th running of the Nürburgring 24 Hour race this past weekend. After all, the cars had swept the podium in a Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie (NLS) race at the track in April and there were three M4 GT3s in the top ten in qualifying, with the #99 car of ROWE Racing starting on the front row in the second position. It would have been a great year to win this race with BMW celebrating the 50th anniversary of BMW M and the race also in its 50th running, but plans often go awry at the ‘Ring.
Crashes and attrition are always a part of racing at the ‘Ring. With around 130 cars entered in various classes, with many cars that are significantly slower than the top GT3 cars, accidents are bound to happen. Just a couple of hours into the race, the #72 BMW Junior Team M4 GT3 was the first BMW to encounter trouble, when Dan Harper ran into a slower car and did significant damage to the left front end of the BMW. Around four hours in, Nick Yelloly made contact with a Porsche that he was battling for position and broke a front wishbone on the #99 BMW that had started second.
The #98 ROWE Racing M4 GT3 was running at the front through the first few several hours of the race and into the night and inherited the lead when the front-running Aston Martin crashed out. That lead didn’t last long for the BMW, as Sheldon van der Linde crashed into the barriers just a few minutes later with a suspected suspension failure.
In the meantime, Alexander Sims had worked his way into third in the #20 Schubert Motorsport M4 GT3 and teammate Jesse Krohn took that car to the lead at around the halfway point of the race, with the closest remaining M4 GT3 (the Walkenhorst Motorsport #102 car), running down in nineteenth. The #20 car then dropped back to fifth after Alexander Sims went off the track and hit a barrier in light rain, causing a front right tire puncture. That car remained in contention for a podium right up until the final hour of the race, when it pulled into pit lane with smoke coming out of the engine due to overheating.
The Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II won the race and it was all Audi and Mercedes cars in the first nine positions, as the top Porsche teams in the race ran into as much trouble as the BMWs. The only M4 GT3 that finished the race was the #102 Walkenhorst Motorsport entry, which finished in 47th overall and 26 laps down on the leaders. “Sadly, that was a very disappointing race for us and we could have done significantly better,” said Head of M Motorsport Andreas Roos. “Our expectations were high after the good, intensive preparations saw us show good pace and record some top results. It is particularly galling that we lost two cars early on due to our own errors. We allowed ourselves to be influenced by the hectic events on the track. The very positive aspect is that our new BMW M4 GT3 has shown that it has the potential to win this race, being right up there in qualifying and in the race.”
One potential cause of concern with all the damage done to the M4 GT3s in the ‘Ring 24 Hour is how that will impact the availability of spare parts for the rest of the racing season. BMW M Motorsport has had supply chain issues since M4 GT3s were delivered to customers early this year, and the parts inventory that they do have could be affected with the number of repairs that will be needed to the cars that participated at the Nürburgring.
There were a lot of BMWs that competed at the Nürburgring 24 Hour besides the M4 GT3s and several of them were successful in their respective classes. The FK Performance Motorsport team won the SP10 class with their M4 GT4, Adrenalin Motorsport by Alzner Automotive won the VT2 RWD class with their 330i and also won the Cup class with their M240i Racing, and Schubert Motorsport won in the BMW M2 CS Racing Cup category. There are still E46 M3s racing at the ‘Ring, and Hofor Racing won the SP 6 class with their E46 M3 GTR. Rockstar Games by Viken Motorsport & Tomcat also won the V4 class with their 325i.
Another major highlight for BMW fans at the Nürburgring race weekend was the Race of Legends, where BMW racing legends including Bill Auberlen, Steve Soper, and Johnny Cecotto were put in M2 CS Racing cars for a half-hour of racing on the Nürburgring Grand Prix track. We’ll tell you more about that race next week. —David Haueter
[Photos courtesy BMW, ADAC]